Holly Richardson: ‘Saints’: Tackling a new book on the early years of the LDS Church

Tuesday, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released a hefty but easy-to-ready volume on early church history as the first in a four-part series. Coming in at almost 600 pages of text, “Saints: The Standard of Truth,” covers the time period of 1815-1846 and shares stories of early church history in a compelling way, with a focus on storytelling narratives.

Incredibly, this is the first history published by the church in almost 90 years, back when church membership had not yet reached one million. Now a world-wide church with millions of members around the globe, it was time — or well past time — to revisit our church’s history.

This new series makes church history accessible to all in an easy-to-read format. Unlike the well-known “Work and the Glory” series that weaves the story of the fictional Steed family with church events, all the events, people and places in “Saints” are real.

This book is not meant to be a “reference book,” a lesson manual or a dry historical thesis. It is meant to engage readers with many of the stories they may know very little about. One such story is about the independent presidential platform Joseph Smith planned to run on. He proposed “granting the president more power to put down mobs, liberating slaves by compensating their owners, turning prisons into places of learning and reform, and expanding the nation westward, but only with the full consent of the [Native Americans].” That was — and in many ways, still is — a pretty bold platform.

These writings also do not shy away from some of the more difficult and rocky times in early church history. In the story of one of Joseph Smith’s tarring and feathering, readers learn that when an angry mobbed pulled Joseph from his home, they stripped him naked and produced a sharp knife to “mutilate,” (or castrate him). “But the man took a look at Joseph and refused to cut him.” Unable to go through with the mutilation, they argued for some time about what to do with him and “settled” for raking his body with sharp fingernails, then covering him with tar and feathers. Battered and bruised, he still preached a sermon the next morning.

In a discussion on polygamy, this volume of “Saints” does not shy away from talking about consummated marriages, saying in one section: “In Nauvoo, some Saints entered plural marriages for time and eternity...like monogamous marriages, these marriages could involve sexual relations and having children.” Other plural marriages were for sealings in the next life but were not marriages in this life, at least not as we know them.

This volume ends with the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith and the first of the early Saints to begin making the journey west. Elder Steven E. Snow, in the February 2018 edition of the Church’s Ensign magazine said, “Saints is not just about imperfect people in the past who became better with the help of the Lord. It is also for imperfect people who want to always remember Him. It will help you remember how merciful the Savior has been to His people, how He has made weak people strong and how Saints around the globe have joined together to further God’s work.”

If you have ever wondered about the early history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and wanted to know more, this is the book for you. You can find it in paperwork, as a digital book or an audio book. There’s even a website: saints.lds.org where you can find out more.

(Photo Courtesy Holly Richardson)

Holly Richardson, a regular Salt Lake Tribune contributor, has enjoyed reading this book and learning some bits of history she did not know.